This week I would like to discuss something that a lot of people do not think on. Hip-Hop has had a lot of bad press over the years whether good or bad. For many people, Hip-Hop is considered a crude form of music and others do not even consider it that. I however have been listening to Hip-Hop for a couple of decades now and, although I agree that there are many rappers out there who cannot write a lick, there are some who hold to a higher standard and can be very poignant and informative if we give them the chance.


A Brief History

In the 1970’s Jamaican born DJ Clive ‘Kool Herc’ Campbell helped to pioneer the genre that is known today as Hip-Hop. Through the medium of House Parties and later Street Parties, he borrowed from the Jamaican tradition of ‘impromptu toasting, boastful poetry and the use of speech over music.’ This then became widely coined as ‘MCing’, words and wordplay, put to a relevant rhythm. He also made use of the African style ‘Capping’ when men of the villages would try to out-do each other for the amusement of the onlookers. Melle Mel is often thought of being the one to be the first person to give himself the title of MC.

DJ Kool Herc’s house parties grew and grew and became very inspirational. Expanding in order to accommodate more and more people, the parties became a place for young people of the streets to go, in order to get away from the violence of the streets themselves.

Even N.W.A., considered the worst of the worst at the time, were trying to tell the story of what was going on in their neighbourhoods; trying to get people to see that America wasn’t this great happy smiley place that everyone wanted it to be. They wanted to let people understand that there were a great many places in the country where is wasn’t safe to walk down certain streets in daylight, never mind after dark. These rappers were the ones who brought it all to our attention and the emphatic language and lyrics were their way of showing the hurt and the strength of their will even after living in the areas where guns, drugs and more were slowly breaking down their society.


So, Lyricism?

Now to the point of this week’s blog, lyricism in Hip-Hop. Most people, if asked, would probably describe rapping as obscene and not think on it further. This is the case in many modern rappers who are after money and fans and little else but there are many others who are fighting the good fight.

Notorious B.I.G. once rapped, “Sky is the limit and you know that you keep on / Just keep on pressing on / Shy is the limit and you know that you can have / What you want. Be what you want.” In this statement, he is talking to all the youngsters who felt like their life wasn’t going to go anywhere; thinking “What chances do I have?”, a big problem, and let them know that they could have that chance of escaping the dangerous neighbourhoods, they just needed to be pro-active and fight the stigmas that were being pressed onto them; keep on keeping on, as they say.

In one of her songs, Lauryn Hill said, “Everything is everything / What is meant to be, will be / After winter must come spring / Change, it comes eventually.” Very poignant, yes? Hip-Hop has not been given a good name but there are people, like Lauryn, that still have something to say; advice, if you will.

Nas is another who speaks out against the stigmas of street life, saying, “If the truth be told, the youth can grow / Then learn to survive till they gain control / Nobody says that you have to be gangstas, hoes / Read more, learn more, change the globe.” I love these lyrics. I have always felt that the best rappers have always been the ones who speak out on the issues relating to their home areas and Nas does just that, in this.


The Rappers Themselves

Lastly, I would like to mention a few of the greats. Biggie and 2Pac will always be considered to be two of the greatest rappers of all time. They, along with DJ Kool Herc, Flava Flav, N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, Ice T, LL Cool J and others, were the backbone for the creation of Hip-Hop and the new expressive use of poetic language, for that is what is it is whether we can appreciate the form or not.

I myself am a huge lover of O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson. He is a poet and has always spoken out on real issues. He uses words to express his emotions and the emotions of the people who grew up where he did. His life had been eventful to say the least and his careful and intellectual lyricism is great to hear. Even when speaking in interviews, you can tell that he is really thinking and not just rolling off the first thing that comes to him, in an attempt to gain followers. No, he speaks from the heart and addresses the issues that concern him, instead of the more usual derogatory use of language. When he does curse or use abrasive language, it is (most often) used as a way to enforce a point and make people listen. This works more with some than others but the point is that he is making the effort to speak on the issues surrounding America today and do that in a lyrical and intelligent way.

Just wakin up in the mornin gotta thank God,
I don’t know but today seems kinda odd.
No barkin from the dog, no smog,
And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog.
I got my grub on, but didn’t pig out.
Finally got a call from a girl I wanna take out.
Hooked it up for later as I hit the door,
Thinkin will I live, another twenty-four.
I gotta go cause I got me a drop top,
And if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop.
Had to stop, at a red light,
Lookin in my mirror and not a jacker in sight,
And everything is alright.”


Some people will agree with me on all this and other will not, I have no delusions but, from what I have heard over the years, lyricism in Hip-Hop is really there and, if we give it a chance then sometimes we can find some real gems of wisdom.

For more updates, follow me on Twitter @AuthorMcGowan


3 thoughts on “Lyricism in Hip-Hop

  1. I never really appreciated hiphop (after being bombarded with early rap while in the Army) until I found myself decades later in an ex-pat bar in Shanghai (The Blue Frog) where they had great hamburgers (important after a week of eating rooster heads and duck tongue) and a really good collection of hip-hop. Perhaps it was the copious amounts of beer we quaffed…anyway, I enjoyed my time steeping in hiphop while at the Blue Frog.


  2. Scott Still to read this properly but there was a Gaelic singer on Good Morning Scotland talking about Gaelic and hip hop. Also about the history and connections with poetry and Gaelic. Mum

    Mrs June S. McGowan 2 Victoria Drive Inverness IV2 3QD 01463-238770



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